After weeks of pondering and discussing with our team about what the “Apple Tablet” might be, today Apple announced the iPad. It’s not what we expected. But after spending the whole day discussing it, I think the iPad just might be the dawn of a new era.
To understand the significance of today’s announcement, we need to focus on the OS and not the hardware for now. Originally, I was hoping the iPad would feature Mac OS X so it could replace my Macbook Air. So, when Steve Jobs announced the iPad and it running iPhone OS, I was initially very disappointed. “Man, this is just a big iPod Touch,” I thought. But we started to ask the question, why didn’t Apple put Mac OS X or even a hybrid OS on the iPad. The iPad has 1024×768 resolution which is notebook/desktop quality screen. So to run just iPhone OS seems counterintuitive. Isn’t iPhone OS for the iPhone and iPod Touch?
But I think the answer lies in this. When compared to each other, the iPhone OS is a better OS than Mac OS X. And the iPhone OS is the OS of the future. iPhone OS will grow to dominate Apple’s computing world. Apple believes in iPhone OS. Here’s why.
Fundamentally, the iPhone OS is a 2.0 kind of OS. When I say “2.0” I say it with reference to Web 2.0 being defined by Tim O’Reilly: “Chief among our insights was that “the network as platform” means far more than just offering old applications via the network (“software as a service”); it means building applications that literally get better the more people use them, harnessing network effects not only to acquire users, but also to learn from them and build on their contributions.”
iPhone OS is all about the apps. On the iPhone, the OS mysteriously disappears as you are plunged into the interactive experience of individual apps. And these apps form a network of apps called the AppStore, that gets better and better with more users and developers. The iPhone OS harnesses the power of the world community of developers, and it just gets better and better with the mind-boggling apps that keep coming out. Apple recognizes this, and with today’s announcement they are saying that they’re taking the iPhone OS and applying it to a new market, the tablet/netbook market. But the tablet/netbook market is so similar to the notebook market (and the desktop market), if the iPad succeeds then it could potentially replace people’s notebooks and become the device of choice.
For teenagers and college students (and some others), the move to the iPad as their only computer will be relatively simple. Most teenagers and college students are using mostly cloud-based apps, ie., email, facebook, web browsing, and media functions like music, movies, etc. So, the iPad will probably suffice for most, especially with the 3g internet option with internet access most anywhere.
However, business user typically rely on traditional software for their work, ie., Photoshop, Group Collab software, etc. And if the iPad doesn’t have comparable software, then it’s difficult to make the iPad your only computing device. But here’s where the iPhone OS as a 2.0 OS comes into play. The world of developers will provide apps with the functions of traditional software, thus making it possible to replace your notebook computer quicker than you’d might expect. Give developers 6-12 months, and you’ll see some mind-boggling iPad apps. These apps will let you edit photos/movies/etc, manage tasks and projects, and let you do all that you did on your notebook/desktop but on the iPad, and it might even be better.
I applaud Apple for choosing the better OS, an OS that gets better with more and more users, because with more and more users there comes more and more apps from more developers. Apple has chosen the next evolution of the operating system and has left Mac OS X as second priority. I think we’ll still see Macbook Pros and iMacs for a long time, and the Mac OS X will get better. But the Mac OS is not the future Apple is banking on. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw the ability to run iPhone OS iPad apps on our MacBook Pros and iMacs in the not-so-distant future. Also, the iPad will just get better and better with time – faster processor, bigger screen, more touch gestures. And all the while, there will be more and more amazing apps that define the OS and even the device. Apple will probably have to rename iPhone OS as well. Maybe they should call it Apple OS.